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Brewster Kahle

Brewster Kahle

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Brewster Kahle (ˈ ; born 1960) is a computer engineer, internet entrepreneur
Internet entrepreneur
An Internet entrepreneur is an entrepreneur that applies innovation to create new businesses on the Internet.Internet entrepreneurs are part of the more general category of digital entrepreneurs...

, activist, and digital librarian
Digital library
A digital library is a library in which collections are stored in digital formats and accessible by computers. The digital content may be stored locally, or accessed remotely via computer networks...



Kahle graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT has five schools and one college, containing a total of 32 academic departments, with a strong emphasis on scientific and technological education and research.Founded in 1861 in...

 in 1982 with a Bachelor of Science
Bachelor of Science
A Bachelor of Science is an undergraduate academic degree awarded for completed courses that generally last three to five years .-Australia:In Australia, the BSc is a 3 year degree, offered from 1st year on...

 in computer science
Computer science
Computer science or computing science is the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation and of practical techniques for their implementation and application in computer systems...

 and engineering
Computer engineering
Computer engineering, also called computer systems engineering, is a discipline that integrates several fields of electrical engineering and computer science required to develop computer systems. Computer engineers usually have training in electronic engineering, software design, and...

, where he was a member of the Chi Phi Fraternity. The emphasis of his studies was artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence is the intelligence of machines and the branch of computer science that aims to create it. AI textbooks define the field as "the study and design of intelligent agents" where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its...

; he studied under Marvin Minsky
Marvin Minsky
Marvin Lee Minsky is an American cognitive scientist in the field of artificial intelligence , co-founder of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AI laboratory, and author of several texts on AI and philosophy.-Biography:...

 and W. Daniel Hillis
W. Daniel Hillis
William Daniel "Danny" Hillis is an American inventor, entrepreneur, and author. He co-founded Thinking Machines Corporation, a company that developed the Connection Machine, a parallel supercomputer designed by Hillis at MIT...


Kahle is the founder of the Internet Archive
Internet Archive
The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It offers permanent storage and access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, music, moving images, and nearly 3 million public domain books. The Internet Archive...

 and the Open Content Alliance
Open Content Alliance
The Open Content Alliance is a consortium of organizations contributing to a permanent, publicly accessible archive of digitized texts. Its creation was announced in October 2005 by Yahoo!, the Internet Archive, the University of California, the University of Toronto and others...

, a group of organizations committed to making a permanent, publicly accessible archive of digitized texts. Kahle is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. The Academy’s elected members are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs.James Bowdoin, John Adams, and...

, a member of the National Academy of Engineering
National Academy of Engineering
The National Academy of Engineering is a government-created non-profit institution in the United States, that was founded in 1964 under the same congressional act that led to the founding of the National Academy of Sciences...

, and serves on the boards of the Electronic Frontier Foundation
Electronic Frontier Foundation
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is an international non-profit digital rights advocacy and legal organization based in the United States...

, Public Knowledge
Public Knowledge
Public Knowledge is a non-profit Washington, D.C.-based public interest group that is involved in intellectual property law, competition, and choice in the digital marketplace, and an open standards/end-to-end internet....

, the European Archive, the Television Archive, and the Internet Archive
Internet Archive
The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It offers permanent storage and access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, music, moving images, and nearly 3 million public domain books. The Internet Archive...

. He is a member of the advisory board of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program of the Library of Congress
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and...

, and is a member of the National Science Foundation
National Science Foundation
The National Science Foundation is a United States government agency that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering. Its medical counterpart is the National Institutes of Health...

 Advisory Committee for Cyberinfrastructure. In 2010 he was given an honorary doctorate in computer science from Simmons College
Simmons College (Massachusetts)
Simmons College, established in 1899, is a private women's undergraduate college and private co-educational graduate school in Boston, Massachusetts.-History:Simmons was founded in 1899 with a bequest by John Simmons a wealthy clothing manufacturer in Boston...

, where he studied library science in the 1980s.

He was a member of the Thinking Machines team (1983–1992), where he developed the WAIS
Wide area information server
Wide Area Information Servers or WAIS is a client–server text searching system that uses the ANSI Standard Z39.50 Information Retrieval Service Definition and Protocol Specifications for Library Applications" to search index databases on remote computers...

 system, a precursor to the World Wide Web
World Wide Web
The World Wide Web is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet...

. In 1992, he co-founded, with Bruce Gilliat, WAIS, Inc. (sold to AOL
AOL Inc. is an American global Internet services and media company. AOL is headquartered at 770 Broadway in New York. Founded in 1983 as Control Video Corporation, it has franchised its services to companies in several nations around the world or set up international versions of its services...

 in 1995 for $15 million), and, in 1996, Alexa Internet
Alexa Internet
Alexa Internet, Inc. is a California-based subsidiary company of Amazon.com that is known for its toolbar and Web site. Once installed, the toolbar collects data on browsing behavior which is transmitted to the Web site where it is stored and analyzed and is the basis for the company's Web traffic...

 (sold to Amazon.com
Amazon.com, Inc. is a multinational electronic commerce company headquartered in Seattle, Washington, United States. It is the world's largest online retailer. Amazon has separate websites for the following countries: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, and...

 in 1999 for $250M of stock). At the same time as he started Alexa, he founded the Internet Archive
Internet Archive
The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It offers permanent storage and access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, music, moving images, and nearly 3 million public domain books. The Internet Archive...

, which he continues to direct.

Kahle and his wife, Mary Austin, created the Kahle/Austin Foundation, a US$45 million trust that supports the Internet Archive and other non-profit organizations. The Foundation supports the Free Software Foundation for the GNU project
GNU Project
The GNU Project is a free software, mass collaboration project, announced on September 27, 1983, by Richard Stallman at MIT. It initiated GNU operating system development in January, 1984...


In his TED Talks Kahle describes his vision of a free digital library, which contains all the world's books, music, concerts, Television programs, and snapshots of World Wide Web pages using an invention called the Wayback Machine
Wayback Machine
The Wayback Machine is a digital time capsule created by the Internet Archive non-profit organization, based in San Francisco, California. It is maintained with content from Alexa Internet. The service enables users to see archived versions of web pages across time, which the Archive calls a "three...

. He was inspired to create the Wayback Machine after visiting the offices of Alta Vista, and was struck by the enormity of the task being undertaken and achieved: to store and index everything that was on the Web. Kahle states: "I was standing there, looking at this machine that was the size of five or six Coke machines, and there was an 'aha moment' that said, 'You can do everything.'"

Book digitization

Kahle has been critical of Google
Google Inc. is an American multinational public corporation invested in Internet search, cloud computing, and advertising technologies. Google hosts and develops a number of Internet-based services and products, and generates profit primarily from advertising through its AdWords program...

's book digitization, especially of Google's exclusivity in restricting other search engines digital access to the books they archive. Kahle describes Google's 'snippet' feature as a means of tip-toeing around copyright issues, and further expresses his frustration in the lack of a decent loaning system for digital materials. He states the digital transition, thus far, has gone from local control to central control, non-profit to for-profit, diverse to homogeneous, and from "ruled by law" to "ruled by contract". Kahle states that even public-domain material published before 1923, and not bound by copyright law, is still bound by contracts and requires a permission-based system from Google to be distributed or copied. Kahle reasons that this trend has emerged for a number of reasons: distribution of information favoring centralization, the economic cost of digitizing books, the issue of staffing at libraries not having the technical knowledge to build these services, and the decision of the administrators to outsource
Outsourcing is the process of contracting a business function to someone else.-Overview:The term outsourcing is used inconsistently but usually involves the contracting out of a business function - commonly one previously performed in-house - to an external provider...

 information services.

Kahle states: "It’s not that expensive. For the cost of 60 miles of highway, we can have a 10 million-book digital library available to a generation that is growing up reading on-screen. Our job is to put the best works of humankind within reach of that generation. Through a simple Web search, a student researching the life of John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy , often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963....

 should be able to find books from many libraries, and many booksellers — and not be limited to one private library whose titles are available for a fee, controlled by a corporation that can dictate what we are allowed to read."

Other benefits of digitization

Kahle explains that apart from the value of an historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

's use of these digital archives; that they might also serve to help with some common infrastructure complaints about the Internet, such as adding reliability to "404 Document not found" errors, contextualizing information to make it more trust-worthy, and maintaining navigation to aid in finding related content. Kahle also explains the importance of packaging enough meta-data (information about the information) into the archive, since we don't know what future researchers will be interested in, and that it might be more problematic in finding data rather then preserving data.

Physical media

"Knowledge lives in lots of different forms over time," Kahle has said. "First it was in people's memories, then it was in manuscripts, then printed books, then microfilm, CD-ROMS, now on the digital internet. Each one of these generations is very important." Voicing a strong reaction to the idea of books simply being thrown away, and inspired by the Svalbard Global Seed Vault
Svalbard Global Seed Vault
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a secure seedbank located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen near the town of Longyearbyen in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago, about from the North Pole. The facility preserves a wide variety of plant seeds in an underground cavern. The seeds are...

, Kahle envisions collecting one copy of every book ever published. "We're not going to get there, but that's our goal," he said. "We want to see books live forever." Pointing out that even digital books have a physical home on a hard drive somewhere, he sees saving the physical artefacts of information storage as a way to hedge against the uncertainty of the future. (Alongside the books, Kahle plans to store the Internet Archive's old servers, which were replaced late last year.) He began by having conventional shipping container
Intermodal container
An intermodal container is a standardized reusable steel box used for the safe, efficient and secure storage and movement of materials and products within a global containerized intermodal freight transport system...

s modified as climate-controlled storage units. Each container can hold about 40,000 volumes, the size of a branch library. So far, Kahle has gathered about 500,000 books. He thinks the warehouse itself is large enough to hold about a million titles, with each one given a barcode that identifies the cardboard box, pallet and shipping container in which it resides. A given book may be retrieved in about an hour, and are not to be loaned out but used to verify contents recorded in another medium.
Book preservation
Preservation (library and archival science)
Preservation is a branch of library and information science concerned with maintaining or restoring access to artifacts, documents and records through the study, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of decay and damage....

 experts say he'll have to contend with vermin
The Enemies of Books
The Enemies of Books is a book on biblioclasts and book preservation by the 19th-century bibliophile and book collector William Blades. The book was first published in 1880 and has been republished in different editions in 1881, 1888, 1896, and 1902 and reproduced widely in electronic format in...

 and about a century's worth of books printed on wood pulp paper
Pulp (paper)
Pulp is a lignocellulosic fibrous material prepared by chemically or mechanically separating cellulose fibres from wood, fibre crops or waste paper. Wood pulp is the most common raw material in papermaking.-History:...

 that decays over time because of its own acidity. Peter Hanff, acting director of the Bancroft Library
Bancroft Library
The Bancroft Library is the primary special collections library of the University of California, Berkeley. It was acquired as a gift/purchase from its founder, Hubert Howe Bancroft, with the proviso that it retain the name Bancroft Library in perpetuity...

, the special collections and rare books archive at the University of California, Berkeley, says that just keeping the books on the west coast of the US will save them from the climate fluctuations that are the norm in other parts of the country.

Awards and appointments

  • Bachelor of Science - Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1982
  • National Academy of Engineering, 2010
  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences, member 2005
  • Library of Congress NDIIP advisory board
  • NSF Cyber Infrastructure advisory board
  • 2004 Paul Evan Peters Award from the Coalition of Networked Information (CNI).
  • 2008 Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award from the University of Illinois
  • 2007 Knowledge Trust Honors award recipient
  • Public Knowledge, IP3 award recipient
  • 2009 "50 Visionaries Changing Your World", Utne Reader
    Utne Reader
    Utne Reader is an American bimonthly magazine. The magazine collects and reprints articles on politics, culture, and the environment from generally alternative media sources, including journals, newsletters, weeklies, zines, music and DVDs...

  • 2010 Honorary Doctor of Laws, University of Alberta,
  • 2010 Zoia Horn Intellectual Freedom Award



External links